Falcons brace for Sean Weatherspoon's departure

There are plenty of reasons why Prince Shembo thinks of Sean Weatherspoon as a big brother.

Shembo, who just completed his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons, struggled with the move from outside linebacker to inside linebacker last season. Weatherspoon was in Shembo's ear the entire way, trying to help ease the taxing transition.

"Spoon was teaching me what kind of plays you would get from certain formations, how to look at the steps of offensive linemen and how to look at the splits of the wide receivers to see what kind of play you were going to get before the play even started," Shembo said. "He'd be like, 'If you see this, it's going to be a power; if you see that, it's going to be a counter; if you that, it's going to be play-action.'

"And then when I injured both of my knees, which set me back even more, he helped me fight through it because he had been through his own injuries. He let me use his hyperbaric chamber at his house. And he would just always keep my spirits up by playing [video games] for hours. He'd always come get me to go out with him. He just was always there for me."

When word of Weatherspoon's imminent departure started to spread over the weekend via text messages, Shembo was one of a handful of Falcons taken off guard. Barring any last-minute complications, Weatherspoon is expected to join the Arizona Cardinals once the free-agent signing period begins at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Multiple sources indicated the Cardinals are prepared to give the 27-year-old Weatherspoon a two-year contract expected to be worth between $3 to $4 million per year. It is unclear whether the Falcons are willing to give Weatherspoon a two-year deal, given his injury history. The team was close to a deal with Weatherspoon on Friday morning but talks obviously fell apart.

Wide receiver Roddy White expressed his thoughts about Weatherspoon's expected move to the NFC West.

"Spoon is a really good football player and a leader in the locker room," White said Sunday. "I think it always hurts when you lose guys like that."

Weatherspoon, a former first-round pick out of Missouri, has had his four-year career marred by injuries. He missed all of last season after suffering an Achilles tear while rehabbing a knee injury sustained during the 2013 season. In '13, he played in just seven games after suffering a Lisfrac ligament sprain in his foot and the aforementioned knee injury. He played in all 16 games just once (2011) in four seasons.

Both Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff expressed a desire to re-sign Weatherspoon. Quinn even called Weatherspoon's injuries just a "string of bad luck." Regardless, the Falcons now have to prepare for life without Weatherspoon. When healthy, he was a versatile inside linebacker who could cover, blitz and make plays all over the field. Not to mention he brought an edge to the defense and was a passionate leader from the start.

The Falcons are likely to check into Seattle's Malcolm Smith as a replacement. Smith played under Quinn the last two seasons when Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. Tampa Bay's Mason Foster, who was drafted by Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris when Morris was the Buccaneers' head coach, is worth serious consideration as well. And the Falcons are likely to draft a linebacker no matter what happens in free agency.

As for Weatherspoon, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him thrive in his new surroundings if his health holds up. He is set to become a new father, so he has to make the best move for his family.

"Yeah, it's going to hurt to see him go," Shembo said of Weatherspoon. "But I tell you one thing: I learned a lot from him this past year."